In the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS 2016), 85% of Fourth-grade students in 50 countries and 11 benchmarking entities worldwide liked reading very much or at least somewhat. A large number of studies have shown that positive attitudes toward reading and reading achievement are related. Therefore, it is somewhat alarming that 16% of students in PIRLS 2016 do not like reading at all. In addition, girls seem to be at an advantage when it comes to reading. On average, they have a more positive attitude towards reading and higher reading achievement scores in nearly all participating countries. This gender gap has not been narrowing since PIRLS 2001.
Based on these observations, together with my colleagues, Prof. Dr. Ariane Willems and Lea Hartwich, I investigated the relationship between boys’ and girls’ reading attitudes and different factors on student and context (class) levels. We utilized national data from PIRLS 2011 and implemented multi-group models for France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.
How did the findings vary between European countries?
The cross-country comparison showed that the number of books at home and how often students read books outside of school are stable indicators of reading attitudes. Students who borrow books from a library also have a more favorable view on reading, with the exception of girls in France and the Netherlands.
Fostering students’ engagement in school and community libraries together with increasing the amount of reading outside of school may be a promising approach to developing a positive relationship with reading.
On the class level, few factors were connected to attitudes toward reading. For boys in Italy, their teachers’ experience was related to reading attitudes, whereas for girls in the Netherlands, the existence of a classroom library acted as a predictor. Surprisingly, students’ socio-economic background was not associated with reading attitudes at all.
Differences in reading attitudes between boys and girls remain apparent in three of four countries even after controlling for students’ socio-economic background, reading behavior, and contextual variables like the time teachers spend on reading instruction and activities, their teaching experience and usage of software for reading instruction.
Schools alone may have little impact on improving reading habits
The differences in reading attitudes between girls and boys cannot be readily explained by the contextual class level factors we used in our models. This leads us to conclude that we do not yet have a sufficient understanding of how to improve students’ reading engagement through classroom resources and teaching.
Fostering students’ engagement in school and community libraries together with increasing the amount of reading outside of school may be a promising approach to developing a positive relationship with reading. Until now, schools seem to have little impact on the future challenge for improving the reading habits and skills of their students.
To change this, a co-operative approach involving different sectors, policy areas and educational institutions might be advantageous. Moreover, further research on the impact of school-based programs on reading attitudes, particularly with a special focus on gender differences, is needed to understand and improve reading attitudes and reading skills in the future.